Wednesday, 28 January 2004

Questions (7, 8, 9)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

124 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Transport the position in regard to his proposals for the restructuring of the CIE group of companies, in particular his proposal for the franchising out of Dublin Bus routes; if this proposal includes the franchising of the buses also; the position in regard to his Department's discussions with the CIE group of unions; if he remains committed to the principle expressed in Sustaining Progress that public enterprise should be managed in a spirit of social partnership; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2424/04]

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Oral answers (37 contributions) (Question to Minister for Transport)

I met the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the CIE trade unions on Monday, 26 January 2004 on the reform of public transport. There was a frank exchange of views in talks which lasted more than two hours. The trade unions and I agreed to reflect on the views expressed at the meeting and consider if there was a basis for resumed discussions on public transport reform.

The objective of regulated market opening in bus transport was accepted in principle by the public transport partnership forum, which included the trade unions and other social partners. This objective can be achieved in the context of market expansions and negotiations, without undermining the terms and conditions of employment of existing employees. In this context, I expect Dublin Bus to play a significant role in meeting the future transport needs of Dublin.

As stated on a number of previous occasions in the House and in meetings with the trade unions, I am firmly of the view, which is supported by a number of professional studies and experience in other countries, that franchising is the most effective way of achieving genuine market opening to new entrants. However, I remain open to additional suggestions provided they are directed at achieving the same objective. Likewise, I am open to reasonable proposals relating to the pace of the introduction of competition as long as this objective is achieved in an acceptable timeframe.

I hope that the understanding of each other's firmly held positions, which characterised my recent meetings with the unions, can provide a productive basis for resumed intensive dialogue on public transport reform. It remains my intention to proceed with legislation on public transport reform in 2004.

Does the Minister accept that his approach in respect of dealing with the issue of public transport reform has not been consistent with the spirit of social partnership, as promised under Sustaining Progress, and that he needs to reconsider his approach to industrial relations issues as a matter of urgency? Does the proposal to franchise out 25% of bus routes include the franchising out of buses? Will the Minister make a statement on the undertaking he has given to the unions in respect of what he is prepared to discuss in talks during the coming weeks? Will those talks include discussions on reforms and changes to the bus market other than his proposal to franchise out 25% of routes? Is the Minister prepared to discuss, in a spirit of partnership, the proposals that are likely to come from the unions in respect of how the bus market can be expanded in a way that will result in additional services being provided for the travelling public? Is he open to proposals on how that can be done?

The objective of making progress can be achieved in the context of market expansion and negotiations and this can be done without undermining the terms and conditions of employment of existing staff.

That was not the question.

I am also of the view, which is firmly supported by a number of professional studies and experience in other countries, that franchising is the most effective way to proceed.

I remain open to additional suggestions provided they are directed at achieving the objective of facilitating new entrants to the market. I am also open to reasonable proposals relating to the pace of the introduction of competition as long as this objective is achieved in an acceptable timeframe. I do not want to use the House as a means to negotiate details on other facts, figures or percentages. I am open to additional suggestions and reasonable proposals and these can be discussed as they arise.

Does the Minister intend to franchise out buses as well as routes?

My proposals are well known.

Perhaps the Minister could outline them.

I cannot go through them all at this stage.

Does the Minister intend to franchise out buses as well as routes?

The mechanisms which could be used to achieve the objectives we have set ourselves are many. In the recent talks, which were not concluded before the breakdown occurred, a number of formulae were discussed as to how we might deal with the issue to which the Deputy refers. A number of formulae are available. I do not believe it would be helpful if I tried to outline a particular formula at this point. I am happy to talk with trade union representatives about the different formulae available to allow us to reach the objective I have laid down.

The Minister has an open mind on the matter.

I have chosen my reply carefully. I am open to additional suggestions provided they are directed at achieving the same objective. I am also open to reasonable proposals relating to the pace of the introduction of competition as long as this objective is achieved in an acceptable timeframe. The objective is an orderly and managed opening of the markets in a way that new entrants can take part in it.

James Breen

Question:

125 Mr. J. Breen asked the Minister for Transport the reason Bus Éireann has not been given permission to incorporate Shannon Airport on its hourly service from Galway to Cork, having made an application in April 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2165/04]

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On 25 September 2003, my Department received a notification from Bus Éireann proposing to divert all its existing hourly services between Galway, Limerick and Cork to operate via Shannon Airport. Bus Éireann informed my Department that it was evaluating the timetable for the proposed route and would forward it in due course. On 10 November 2003 my Department received the revised timetable for the proposed service.

Following an initial examination of the notification, my Department identified one licence application from a private operator for services on and along the same route which was received prior to the Bus Éireann notification. Applications and notifications are dealt with on a first come first served basis and, accordingly, a decision must be made on the prior application first. That application has been processed and a decision is expected shortly. My Department has been in contact with Bus Éireann to advise it of the position and the Department will revert to Bus Éireann as soon as a decision has been made on the application concerned.

Does the Minister agree that a private operator will not be able to provide the same level of service as Bus Éireann? Does he agree that, if Bus Éireann is given the contract, there will be 13 services a day from Galway to Shannon and 13 from Cork? This would link the west, the mid-west and the south with an international airport and would make Shannon quite viable. Will the Minister confirm his commitment to Shannon and sanction this service without further delay? I am surprised that his Department is taking so long to make a decision on this matter.

I cannot understand how a private operator could provide a better bus service to Shannon Airport than Bus Éireann. Let us imagine a situation where 26 services, 13 from Cork and 13 from Galway, would be provided each day to Shannon. People from Sligo, Derry, the west coast, Cork, Kerry, Waterford, part of Wexford, Kilkenny and Tipperary would use this international airport. Will the Minister ensure that the contract to provide the service is awarded to Bus Éireann?

I share the Deputy's view on the objective of supplying Shannon Airport with the best possible bus service and the maximum practical number of bus services. This case is well known and has a long history. It is important to state that, until two years ago, with the exception of a small number of services, there was no consistent overall service to Shannon Airport. I share the Deputy's objective of ensuring that the maximum number of bus services are provided between Galway and Shannon Airport. Galway city is now a big catchment area for Shannon. I am committed to developing the road between Galway and Shannon in order that the latter can encompass the former in its catchment area for transatlantic business in particular. We will make a decision on this matter soon.

It is important to note that we operate under the 1932 Act, which, as the Deputy is aware, I am determined to have amended. The legislation must be updated as quickly as possible. It is also important to point out that this is an expressway service. Some 50% of the entire expressway service for the country is open to public and private companies. Bus Éireann has about 50% of the expressway market in Ireland. Incidentally, it is substantially profitable for Bus Éireann and the company does a good job in a sector that is highly competitive.

We will make a decision on this issue as quickly as possible. My aim relates not to the owner of the bus but to ensuring that Shannon Airport has proper infrastructure and a good bus service from the Galway region. There is great business for Shannon in Galway.

Denis Naughten

Question:

126 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Transport his plans for competition within the bus market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2422/04]

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The reply to this question is identical to the reply to Question No. 124.

I will take the reply as read. The Minister said earlier that he is open to suggestions once the same objective is reached. What is that objective? Does the Minister want 250 additional buses in Dublin or does he wish to change the livery on the sides of the existing buses? In other words, will Dublin Bus buses be handed over to private operators? It is a simple question.

With regard to the franchising of routes, is it the Minister's priority to save money or to improve the quality and level of service provided to the consumer? It was clear from the discussions Deputy Shortall and I attended in London that it is not possible to improve the service with the same level of funding. The Minister also talks about opening inter-city routes to competition. Is it his intention to have a single operator on the inter-city routes between Dublin and Galway, Dublin and Cork and so forth?

I dealt with the inter-city situation. They are, as a result of the 1932 Act, almost fully deregulated now. That is the expressway system.

There will not be a single operator.

There cannot be. The expressway system is operated under the 1932 Act and that has led to approximately 50% of the market being opened. As I have previously pointed out to the trade union movement, if we do not make some progress, the 1932 Act will bring about a completely deregulated situation, which nobody wants. I do not recommend that. However, it has led to a 50% opening of the inter-city and expressway market. The objective of the process is the opening of the market to new entrants.

It is a simple question. Will there be 250 additional buses in Dublin city or will the livery on existing Dublin Bus buses be changed? Will there be more buses or will the Minister hand over or lease some of the Dublin Bus fleet to private operators? There is a significant difference.

As I explained to Deputy Shortall, there are a number of mechanisms and formulae and we have been discussing these with the trade unions recently. We will continue to do that if we can have further discussions. The use of phrases such as "handing over", which I have read in reports, is not helpful to the process in which we are now engaged. One could equally say the same about air routes and the like.

One could use the word "leasing". The Minister can use whatever word he wishes.

It is not a matter of taking from something but whether, between us, we can examine a market that belongs to the public and consider whether different entrants can contribute to growing that market and, in so doing, provide more employment and encourage more people out of their cars and onto public transport.

The Deputy referred to London and I have some figures which might be of interest. London experienced the highest ever number of passengers on buses in 2002——

It was the highest ever cost.

The subsidy per passenger is down and the overall subsidy is up.

It is set to double within the next five years. It is accepted that it must be properly subsidised.

I will not get into that now. I can publish this at the appropriate time but the facts and figures show that the London bus system is considered to be highly successful. The buses run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the number of passengers has grown dramatically since franchising was introduced. The subsidy per person has been reduced. If the objective is to get more passengers, the experience in London, although not in the rest of Great Britain, has been hugely successful.

In Helsinki, public transport costs have fallen by 29% and demand for buses has increased by 10%. Passenger numbers have increased by 20%. I have similar examples from Copenhagen, Stockholm and many other countries.

We have all those statistics. If I want statistics, I will contact the Central Statistics Office.

The Deputy asked me about statistics.

No, I did not.

The Deputy does not want figures.

I asked a simple question. By not answering it the Minister has given me the answer. I did not ask for statistics.

When will the Minister appoint the regulator and will that require legislation? When will integrated ticketing be in place? This has been promised since 1994 and the Minister said he wanted it to be in place prior to competition being introduced. What is the timescale for the introduction of competition? Is it not the case that what the Minister proposes will not improve the level of service to the customer? We need additional buses and additional services in Dublin. Handing over or leasing buses from Dublin Bus to private operators will not improve the quality and level of service in the short to medium term.

Legislation is required to appoint a regulator and that will be in the public transport reform Bill which is promised for 2004. Other legislation, namely, the companies Bill, is also promised for 2004. The Rail Procurement Agency is working on integrated ticketing and, by the end of this year, should be in a position to make substantial progress on it. I have referred to the timescale for the legislation. With regard to a better service, my only motivation in this endeavour is to grow the market.

It is to save money.

It is to grow the market. I remain committed to the view that a number of entrants into a market tends to increase its size. That is the international evidence. I look forward to having discussions with the unions.